Happiness Is An Everyday Affair
If our paths to happiness are all different, how do we know how to get there?
My happiness may not be your happiness just as your happiness may not be mine. While we may not agree on what makes us happy, we do agree that we all seek happiness.
Some of us are intuitively happy. For these people, happiness is a natural place.
Others of us think it’s right around the corner. If only, they think, if only I get that new job, win the lottery, or meet that right person, then I’ll be happy. Unfortunately, that keeps them from enjoying daily happiness. Instead, their mind is in a dream. They’d be surprised to learn that happiness is not connected to an event or an accomplishment.
Still others think happiness and well-being are just plain elusive. They don’t know how to find it; they may have even stopped trying. Instead, they look for a rulebook or guide book to tell them how to be happy. Just tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it.
What is happiness?
From the start of time, people have asked the question, what is happiness. Philosophers, explorers and even the authors of our Constitution valued happiness. That’s why our Constitution promises the pursuit of happiness.
But, what is it? Let’s start with what it’s not. Too often, happiness is linked with insincerity, with frivolous happy faces. Visualize any over-zealous, silver-tongued person. That does not represent happiness.
A happy person is genuine. A happy person is engaged with their life. Happiness is more than simple pleasures; it also comes from within, from honoring all the special facets of our self. Happiness might be better defined as a sense of well-being, an inner balance and satisfaction.
Happiness does not require a smile. Happy people are fully and satisfyingly engaged in their life. People who are engaged in a game of chess can be every bit as happy as the people on the field playing touch football.
The experience of happiness
Visualize a line. At one end of the line is pleasure and at the other end of the line is meaning and mental engagement. Every point on that line describes the experience of happiness. At one end is pure pleasure; it feels more immediate and doesn’t have a lasting side to it. A hot bath or a delicious steak might be at that end.
At the other end you will find a mental quality, with the engagement of your own interests and talents. A sense of belonging to something greater, a personal mission, a commitment to a cause – these will be found at the other end of the line.
There are many points on the line. We don’t live life at a single point. Instead, our life experiences will be at various points on that line. Our lives and our happiness are a balance of all our experiences.
Where does happiness come from?
Of late, there’s been a lot of research into the source of happiness with groundbreaking results. Social psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research uncovered the surprising factors that influence our happiness.¹
Most of us assume that happiness is the result of life circumstance. We think the facts of our lives will predict our happiness. After all, shouldn’t a lottery winner spend the rest of their life at the peak of happiness while the paraplegic will live life in sorrow? Well, it doesn’t work that way.
Circumstance accounts for only ten per cent of the factors that influence our happiness. Here is how it breaks out.
Genetic Tendencies = 50% of happiness
Circumstance = 10% of happiness
Intentional Activities = 40% of happiness
Are you surprised? Forty per cent of our personal happiness depends on us. Our happiness depends on the things we do or don’t do every single day. That means we are each responsible for our own happiness. What we do or don’t do influences our happiness.
For things you can do to, in other words, intentional activities, click on this title Fifteen Ways to Increase Happiness. It’s on this website.
Another surprise – our highs and lows don’t last. That high we feel when we buy the house of our dreams and at all our other high point moments don’t keep us at a high. The same is true for those tough experiences; our lows don’t last either. Instead, we return to our normal. We can increase our normal with intentional activity. Otherwise, we’ll return to our normal.
Moving Beyond Just Plain Happiness²
The more it’s researched, the more we know about happiness. It’s one thing to say, “I feel happy.” and another to say, “I am happy.” One is the fleeting happy moment. The other is a blend of key life experiences. The following are the life experiences believed to contribute to a happy life, to a sense of well-being:
Positive Emotions. These are the in-the-moment emotions we experience. They don’t last. We feel them and then they are gone. They do inform us; our positive emotions tell us what we need in our lives. Our positive emotions are those we want to have again and again.
Engagement. You are engaged when you are totally absorbed. Think about a tennis game. When you are absorbed, you are probably playing optimally. When your mind is not on the game, you are probably not playing as well. This is also called flow. Some people think of it as being in the zone.
When you are engaged, you lose complete track of time and surrounding. When you are engaged, you feel challenged and are up to the challenge. When you are engaged, you do not worry about failure. Flow is optimal when your skills are up to the challenge.
Be aware. Today’s electronic games can be wholly absorbing and challenging. While these games cause us to lose track of time and our surroundings, they do not contribute to our life’s well-being.
Relationships. Our connections with others are vital to our well-being. Positive psychologist, Chris Peterson, sums it up and says it best when he says, “Other people matter.”3
The people in our lives may be relatives, friends, business associates and social acquaintances. Even our auto mechanic is a person in our life. In relationships, we give and we receive. How we maintain and sustain our relationships says much about the nature of our happiness.
Meaning. Our lives have meaning when we feel we are a part of something larger than we are. Meaning can come in different forms. Adventurers, explorers and inventors followed an inner quest. Others of us work on behalf of a cause. Perhaps our meaning comes from parenting or teaching.
Our life’s meaning is unique. We alone are the ones who can define our meaning. It gives us a direction; it provides an underlying foundation for our life.
Accomplishment. This is a broad category. Much fits into it. Whether you are a pianist, a physicist or a parent, your accomplishment is the result of what you put into it. Are you competent or are you a master of the skills needed for your pursuit?
Perhaps you are a great friend – that is an accomplishment. It could be you are an excellent electrician – that is an accomplishment. Bridge-playing, too, can be an accomplishment.
Another key piece to the happiness puzzle is the concept of positivity. Positivity is a ratio - we need three positive emotions for every negative emotion. Why? It turns out that we ruminate over our negative emotions; we experience negative emotions more deeply. That means it takes more positive emotions – love, joy, laughter, friendship and more – to reduce the effect of one negative emotion.
Barbara Fredrickson, Distinguished Psychology Professor from the University of North Carolina proposes the following as our daily ratio4. Fredrickson explains that the tipping point for happiness and satisfaction is:
3 Positive Emotions : 1 Negative Emotion
Fredrickson’s research shows that most of us are at 2:1. That means we experience two positive emotions for every negative emotion. That keeps us at a low level of well-being. With only two positive emotions for each negative emotion, our happiness remains low.
When we increase our daily positive emotions, we change our sense of well-being. That means we need to work extra hard to keep our daily positive emotions at peak level5. On the flip side, don’t try to avoid negative emotions; we need those, too. Again, it’s the balance that gets us to our happy goal.
To monitor your personal positive for a week or two, go to Fredrickson’s website, Positivity Ratio, where you’ll find her positivity test. To watch Fredrickson’s YouTube videos for more about positivity, click here.
¹ Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness.
² Martin Seligman, Flourish. Seligman is the Father of Positive Psychology. Another important Positive Psychologist, the one who research unearthed the concept of flow is Mihaly Csi9kszentmihalyi, Flow, the psychology of optimal experience.
3 Christopher Peterson, A Primer in Positive Psychology
4 Barbara Fredrickson, YouTube: Positive Emotions Transform Us http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKggZhYwoys ; Positivity
5 Barbara Frederickson, Positivity